Eimear O’Herlihy, Festival Director for the West Cork Literary Festival. Photo: Darragh Kane

Cork Profile - Eimear O’Herlihy

When you were small, what did you want to be as a grown-up? I really had no idea. I couldn’t even imagine a career in the arts.

Tell us about your career progression to your role today: I started in 1996 on a Community Employment (CE) Scheme in the National Sculpture Factory and from there worked with Mercier Press, Cork Film Festival and the Everyman Theatre.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do? Definitely all the incredible writers I get to meet during West Cork Literary Festival every summer.

What motivates you? This year I’m really motivated by the opportunity and challenge of bringing an in-person literary festival back to the town of Bantry.

What advice would you give your 15 year old self? Don’t worry if you have no idea what you want to do with your life. You have plenty of time to figure it out!

If you weren’t in the job you have, what would you be doing? I would definitely be working in the arts and I’ve enjoyed all the different artforms I worked in so far.

What is your greatest life or career achievement to-date? 8 years ago I was feeling quite burned out at work so I decided to take a career break. I quit my job and travelled for a few months around Greece. During this time-out the opportunity came up to apply for my current role programming West Cork Literary Festival and to go freelance. I discovered a new country and a new career direction both of which I am still passionate amount.

Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life? Personally, my parents. Professionally, all of my brilliant colleagues in the arts who have worked so hard to keep it all going during the past 2 years. The arts have been such a comfort to people during the pandemic.

What is the life dream now? I am pretty happy with my life as it is. I’m very proud of everything we do at West Cork Literary Festival, it’s a delight getting to read so many books as part of my job and I love splitting my life between two countries. I feel like I have a good work-life balance.

How do you switch off? Believe it or not, I read to relax. It can feel like a busman’s holiday though. I also do a lot of walking in order to get exercise, fresh air and time away from the screen, and I love swimming in the sea, including a dip at Fountainstown on St Patrick’s Day this year.

What is your favourite Cork memory? My father took us to the cinema regularly when I was a child and I have great memories of all the different, now-closed cinemas like the Capitol, the Palace, the Lee, the Classic and the Pav.

What is your favourite place in Cork? I grew up near Fitzgerald’s Park and it is wonderful to see how the people of Cork have really reclaimed this park as a place to relax and hangout. I walk through it regularly on my way to the Lee Fields, I’ve attended loads of Cork Midsummer events there and as a result of the pandemic I now sometimes hold work meetings on a park bench with a takeaway coffee from the café.

Do you have a favourite quote or motto? When Sonia O’Sullivan failed to finish her race during the Atlanta Olympics there was uproar afterwards. In an interview that night Sonia’s father said, “nobody died”. I often think about that line and it helps me to maintain perspective when things don’t go right. I adore my work but it’s not life or death and there are so many more important things happening in the world.

When are you at your happiest? When I’m by or in the sea.

What is your hidden talent? If I have any talents I try to put them out there, whilst endeavouring to keep my non-talents hidden!

What might we be surprised to know about you? I think you know all my secrets now.

Anything else you’d like to share with us? This summer’s West Cork Literary Festival will be back in Bantry from 8-15 July. Do check out our line-up on westcorkmusic.ie/literary-festival, and join us in glorious West Cork!


Name and position: Eimear O’Herlihy, Festival Director of West Cork Literary Festival

Age: It shocks me greatly to announce that I’ll be turning 50 this year.

Lives: I live in Cork city, where I am from, but I spend several months each year in Greece. The joys of working from home! And then I decamp to West Cork for the festival.

Family: My mum, young brother and his family live in Cork city and my older brother and his family live in Sydney. I am the adoring aunt to 4 nephews and a niece.

Pets: I am a frequent dogsitter for a griffon-basset hound mix called Boubou. She’s not mine but we are mutually obsessed!

Favourite thing about Cork: Cork has all the great bars, restaurants, theatres, galleries that you would expect from a city but it’s also so close to the coast and it’s so easy to head to east or west Cork for a daytrip.

Least favourite thing about Cork: It would be great to see cycling prioritised more in the city and surrounding areas – more cycle lanes and less parking in the cycle lanes.

One thing you’d change about Cork: I would love to see greater connectivity to and from Cork. It would make my job easier if there were more international and national flight connections to Cork and would be great for tourism and investment in the city.